The man at the centre of the Oxfam sex scandal has broken his silence, denying allegations he solicited prostitutes or held sex parties while working for the charity.
In a TV interview accompanied by a long open letter, Roland van Hauwermeiren said that much of what was alleged against him was “absolute nonsense”.
“Of course I’m not regarded very well by people perhaps who were less professional journalists who allege that Oxfam is an instrument to have sex orgies with the help of upstanding citizens but that’s absolute nonsense.” Mr van Hauwermeiren told Belgium’s VTM television.
Leaks to The Times newspaper, published last week, claimed Mr van Hauwermeiren hosted sex parties and solicited prostitutes while working as Oxfam country director in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
According to leaked papers seen by The Times, he was ‘allowed to resign’ because he and others had admitted using prostitutes.
The newspaper reported that those familiar with the case said they’d seen footage which resembled an orgy and they couldn’t rule out that some of the women involved may have been under age.
Attempting to explain his version of events, Mr van Hauwermeiren said he had a relationship with a local Haitian woman but that she was not a prostitute.
“It was clean, just as if I’d met a lady here in Belgium – and I do have a lady friend – and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Of course I admit, at that moment, I should have been better and cleverer, knowing that the rumour mill is operating everywhere and I could give cause for suspicion.”
“I should have known better, I’m made of flesh and blood, nobody’s perfect, but I’m not a pig.”
In the open letter he added: “I made mistakes. And I am deeply ashamed. Indeed I admitted to the investigators that I had three times intimate contact in my house. I felt it was a grown, honourable lady, not a victim of the earthquake and not a prostitute.
“I had met her because I supported her younger sister and her mother with diapers and powder milk. I have never given her money.
“The investigators asked about this and I admitted right away. There were also many attempts by men and women to enter my house trying to ask for money for a variety of fake reasons, to ask for a job, or to offer sexual services. I never accepted their advances.”
Mr van Hauwermeiren also counters allegations against him relating to his charity assignments in Liberia and Chad as well as Haiti.
On the Liberia deployment, in 2006, he admits being in the company of women he later discovered to be prostitutes but denies any intimacy with them.
“I was indeed witness when two friends of mine took two ladies (afterwards it was discovered they were prostitutes) to a bar, and I danced there with them. I also greeted them afterwards at a nice coming together (not a sex party) with officials, and danced with them and flirted. I had NO contact with prostitutes, nor did I invite them as was suspected at first.”
On his deployment to Chad, pointing out it’s a conservative Muslim country, he said: “If anybody of ours had invited a prostitute it would have been known by all of us, and there would have been a chance that you would have found him the next morning on the street with a cut throat… Money from the organisation for sex – or for other parties? Complete nonsense.”
In the open letter he says he was even known as “the terminator” for acting decisively against sexual misconduct.
The tone and content of his letter suggest he has considerable concern over what impact the scandal will have on the charity sector and those it seeks to help.
Commenting on the resignation of Oxfam’s deputy director, Penny Lawrence, he said: “She is an honest person with formidable leadership qualities. She even initiated the investigation. She doesn’t deserve this.”
Mr van Hauwermeiren concludes his letter alleging that he knows the source of the leak to the Times newspaper.
“I was just informed that a British colleague of mine in Liberia was the source of the despicable info. He was fired by me for alcohol abuse and misconduct against staff, long before the current facts. That was Liberia. I indeed also saw him in that bar during those events.”
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